Saturday night saw Newcastle bid farewell to metal royalty, as the mighty Slayer headlined their biggest ever show in the region.
One of the genre’s most iconic names, the Californian thrash legends are enjoying one last hurrah before calling it a day, having suffered the loss of founding guitarist and chief songwriter Jeff Hanneman to liver failure in 2013.
And while Slayer were very much the main draw, this bill offered plenty more besides, serving up a veritable metallic feast and drawing a healthier crowd than many had anticipated.
The early start proved no deterrent either, with the majority already present and correct as Florida’s Obituary took to the stage at the ripe old time of 6:15pm.
The arena isn’t the ideal stage for a ravaging old-school death metal act, but the five-piece nevertheless acquitted themselves well, turning in a thunderous career-spanning set before bumping the dial up several notches during turbo-charged closer Slowly We Rot.
Hot on their heels were New York City’s Anthrax, who as a member of thrash’s feted ‘Big Four’ (along with Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer themselves) could perhaps count themselves unfortunate not to be higher up the bill.
Certainly, the quintet wasted no time asserting their credentials in arriving with the speed metal classic Caught In A Mosh; a fan favourite from their best-loved album, Among The Living.
They’ve neither the extremity nor the darker edge sported by many of their contemporaries, yet their lighter take translates superbly on the live stage – not least thanks to frontman Joey Belladonna’s soaring, Bruce Dickinson-esque vocals.
Above all their set was terrific fun; which is more than can be said for Lamb Of God, who topped the evening’s supporting cast.
A key act in the New Wave of American Heavy Metal which dominated the early ‘00s, this Virginia five-piece are symptomatic of the second wave of groove-laden acts who followed in Slayer’s wake – and of the diminishing returns they suffered.
They are one of the better bands spawned from that movement, though over 45 minutes their performance often melded into a monotonous splurge of meat-headed riffs and chugging breakdowns.
The bulk of the crowd seemed to enjoy it, though, and it was with whetted appetites and a sea of devil horns that they finally greeted Slayer to the stage.
What followed was pretty much everything you’d want and expect from a Slayer show; no ballads; few pauses for breath; nary a stereotype left unchecked.
If you’ve any concept of what a Slayer gig would be like, chances are you’re not far off the mark. They’re stupidly fast, very, very loud and front-loaded with some of the most memorable, unholy riffs ever produced.
Oh, and there was fire. Lots and lots of fire.
Most bands use pyro sparingly, saving it for their most climatic or explosive moments. Here, though, practically every song is licked with flame, with the stage frequently erupting into a raging, hellish inferno.
There weren’t actually many mosh or circle pits among the crowd, but perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise; after all, it can’t be easy to multitask when you’re banging your head at ludicrous bpm and screaming “SLAYYYYYEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRR!!!” as loudly as your lungs can bear.
The band, meanwhile, did air a handful of more recent numbers, but these were outweighed and considerably outmatched by highlights from their late ‘80s and early ‘90s peak.
The fiendish War Ensemble, for instance, capped off a full-throttle opening (even if cries of “WAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!” felt a tad untimely on the eve of Armistice Day), while an obscene closing salvo (Dead Skin Mask, Hell Awaits, South Of Heaven, Raining Blood, Chemical Warfare, Angel Of Death) outlined the absence of the man who wrote the bulk of their finest songs.
Even with Gary Holt (of thrash contemporaries Exodus) ably joining founding members Tom Araya and Kerry King and drummer Paul Bostaph, the departed Hanneman loomed large throughout, and it wasn’t before time that they unveiled a giant banner in his honour.
There’ll be plenty nursing sore necks come the morning – a fitting legacy for the guitarist and this most infamous of metal institutions.